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Family holds out hope for finding dog

Nala sits pretty for her picture last fall. Nala has been missing since November 1 from her Saginaw home and her owners are still searching. Submitted photo1 / 4
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"Lost: A piece of our heart. Her name is Nala and she is a 3-year-old, snow-white female German shepherd/Siberian husky mix. She has pink ears and nose and big, brown eyes. She is very smart, loving and mischievous. We love her and she is greatly missed by several generations of our family."

Dogs are not just pets; they are a four-legged member of the family.

Just ask Ginny Tuominen and her family. They have been searching relentlessly since Nala disappeared Nov. 1.

It was a day like any other. Tuominen let Nala outside to run on their 10 acres of wooded property in Saginaw. Located on a dead-end road off Highway 2, it's a perfect place for a high-energy dog like Nala.

It was not uncommon for the energetic pup to chase a squirrel into the woods and play for a while, returning when she was finished. Sometimes she would visit a neighbor before heading home. Sometimes Tuominen would drive down the dead-end road calling for Nala. When the dog heard her name she came running out of the woods and into the car.

That last scenario is one Tuominen suspects played a role in their beloved pet's disappearance.

Nala was last seen playing in a neighbor's yard about 3:30 p.m. that day. After a short time, she ran out of the yard and has not been seen since.

As Tuominen and one of her daughters was shoveling the driveway at 7:30 p.m., they heard a car stop down the road near their woods.

Alarmed, they ran down the driveway. They saw car tracks in the snow going past their house towards Highway 2 and signs that the vehicle stopped next to their woods. Nala's tracks led from the woods and ended at the stopped car.

Since then, Tuominen has learned how to utilize Facebook and the missing dog sites, including Missing Pets in the Northland and Lost Dogs Minnesota. She has been amazed and humbled at the outpouring of support from the online communities. She is surprised how many times her posts have been shared, how many people sent her possible leads and offered to help search for Nala.

She has shared photos of Nala wearing her training collar with a black box and a new pinkish collar with a swirl design, which she was wearing when she disappeared.

Her son-in-law, Brandon Sell, contacted animal shelters throughout Minnesota to notify them to be on the lookout for Nala.

Friends and family have put up posters around town and gone door-to-door down Tuominen's dead-end road asking if anyone had company leave at 7:30 that evening.

Tuominen also placed an ad in the Pine Journal, called area veterinary clinics, posted notice on Craigslist and joined many garage-sale websites to increase the odds of bringing Nala home.

Residents went out on horseback searching the countryside for Nala.

Tuominen talked to hunters over deer-opener weekend, asking them to keep watch for the white 60-pound dog. Still no solid leads.

While most dogs run off on their own, once in a while, dogs have been discovered to have been stolen in the area.

Friends of Animals manager Katy Hanson recalled a dog abduction from Virginia last year. The dogs were found in Barnum several months later when the woman called FOA to pick up a stray. It was later discovered the stray was actually one of two dogs the woman had stolen from the Virginia owner.

"We put the pieces together after almost two months. Thanks to Lost Dogs Minnesota on Facebook, we were able to reunite (the dogs with) the owner," Hanson said.

FOA saw the Virginia owners posts on the missing dog site and realized the "stray" they picked up in Barnum was one of the missing dogs. FOA called in law enforcement and eventually both of the Virginia owner's pets were returned.

FOA reunited 145 dogs and 25 cats with their owners in 2017.

Dr. Jennifer Shepherd, owner of the Cloquet Animal Hospital, offers an often overlooked tip.

"Before your pet goes missing, get them microchipped," Shepherd said.

A cat that came into the clinic was scanned for a chip. They discovered the cat had been reported missing for over a year.

Shepherd also recommends owners visit local shelters. What one person describes may not be what the other person hears. What may look like a white color to one person may look cream, off-white or tan to another person.

Tuominen covered all of the bases usually recommended by local veterinarians and animal shelters.

In addition, Tuominen's daughters graduated from Carlton in the mid-2000s, and several friends and old basketball teammates spent hours searching for Nala in Carlton. An old Carlton neighbor of Tuominens thought he saw Nala in his yard trying to play with a grandson.

"That sounded most like Nala," Tuominen said sadly of the many leads. She explained Nala adored her young grandchildren, including a 5-year-old grandson.

The grandson is now afraid to visit his grandma because someone might take him, like they did his four-legged-friend.

Tuominen paused for a moment while thinking of her grandson.

Nala would follow the grandchildren around, even climb ladders to be with them if necessary. She lay by their beds, or in them, when they spent the night at grandma's house.

"It's very sad and heartbreaking not knowing where she is," Ashley Sell said. "Is she alone in the cold and wondering where her family is? I have to find the right words to explain to my kids why their playmate isn't coming home."

The family is still searching for Nala. They hold out hope that someone will find their fur baby and contact them.

"She has a loving family waiting for her to come home," Tuominen said.

If anyone sees Nala, they are asked to call Ginny Tuominen at 218-590-7322 or Brandon Sell at 218-591-1425.